Sunday, April 20, 2014

Aisha's Story: How Grassroots Education Can Change Perceptions of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria

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Aisha Hassan (right) talks to community members about preventing HIV. Photograph by Enhancing Nigeria’s Response to HIV and AIDS (ENR).

Being a 16-year-old girl, facing daily poverty and growing up in a polygamous family in a town in central Nigeria, I could never imagine how much overhearing what a peer educator said to a group of young girls about alcohol abuse and it’s link to HIV/AIDS would change my life and my family’s behaviour. Despite having scores of chores to do, as I had every day – including hawking goods to help support my family’s income – I stopped and listened to the discussion. What I heard were the answers to some of the questions I had not dared to ask anyone, including my mother.

These are all issues that are considered taboo in my community and many believe just talking about them can lead girls 'astray' or make them 'loose'. But on me it had the opposite effect. I finally had the chance to hear the right information about HIV/AIDS, risky behaviour and how to protect myself – rather than myths and rumours I had heard from others. And knowing that HIV infection rates are very high in my state, it is life saving information.

Having the privilege of attending a number of these group sessions, I decided to go home and tell my mum about what had been discussed. Sadly she reacted badly and warned me not to attend these kinds of groups again. Despite telling her some of the things I had learned that applied to her as well – especially about the risks of multiple partners as my father had other wives and drank a lot – she was so furious that she paid a visit to the facilitator of the group to ban me from attending again. Her visit led to something I could not have expected. After the discussion with the group head Mary, who, with skill and patience, explained the risks of HIV/AIDS and how to help all of us protect ourselves, my mother, father and the entire household went for an HIV test. 

The impact of this experience has now extended even beyond my household. We are now approached for information and advice, and have become agents for change in our own community as others have begun to realise the need to access HIV testing and counselling services. In a community where once no-one was allowed to talk about the fact that adults and young people were having multiple sexual relationships, abusing alcohol, getting pregnant and dropping out of schools, being part of this peer education group has changed my life, my family’s behaviour and brought changes to our community.

The Peer Education Plus programme Aisha benefitted from is organised by the Nasarawa State Agency for the Control of AIDS (SACA), and supported by Enhancing Nigeria’s Response to HIV and AIDS (ENR), a six-year programme funded by the UK's Department for International Development. This blog was edited by Omokhudu Idogho, the ENR's programme director, and Aisha was speaking to Kogi Aondover Joseph, a Monitoring and Evaluation Advisor in Nasarawa State.

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